Christmas: Is It “What You Make It”?
Some say that Christmas is what you make it. Yet, since it’s supposedly the birthday of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we ask what His opinion of Christmas is?
“Christmas is what you make it.”
To me, the words coming from the radio were shocking. By themselves, they might have just been an attempt to create the “holiday spirit.” Yet, in the context of the commercial that was playing, those words took on a whole new meaning.
The commercial had discussed the origins of Christmas. It mentioned the fact that Christmas has its roots in paganism (that is, cultures that worshipped gods—often elements of nature—other than the true God), mostly in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia (named after the chief Roman god Saturn). The commercial brought up the fact that the Puritans in New England had banned the celebration of the holiday.
With a background like this, how can Christmas just be “what you make it”?
Origins of Christmas
When you look at the origins of Christmas, you quickly realize that the commercial was correct. Christ had nothing to do with the origins of this holiday—the Catholic Church simply attached His name to the holiday in the third century.
Here are a few elements of Christmas and their pagan origins:
- The date of Dec. 25: This date is not derived from the Bible. In fact, a strictly biblical examination of Christ’s birth strongly rules out December since the census mentioned in Luke 2 would have been unlikely in the rainy winter months and shepherds wouldn’t have kept their flocks out at night during the winter season.
Instead, the date comes from a number of pagan festivals in the ancient world that were based around the winter solstice. Examples of pagan festivals that were held around this time were Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birth of the invincible sun god), Saturnalia and the birthday celebration of Mithra.
- Exchange of gifts: Ever wonder why Christ is the only One who doesn’t receive gifts on what’s supposed to be His birthday? The answer lies in a study of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. During this weeklong festival, the often drunk and unruly festivalgoers would exchange gifts. We encourage you to learn more about the customs of Saturnalia.
- Santa Claus: What does an obese, old man in a bright red suit have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ? Nothing! The modern image of Santa Claus was derived from a figure called Saint Nicholas who lived in Turkey during the third century. Other sources make a link between the name Nicholas and the ungodly Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation 2:6.
- The Christmas tree: The evergreen tree was seen as special in pagan religions because it lived (remained green) during the winter months. Interestingly, the Bible even mentions “green trees” in the negative context of pagan worship (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4; 17:10). Many historical sources trace the tradition of decorating a tree to Germanic paganism, but the Bible shows that a form of this tradition went all the way back to the sixth century B.C. (Jeremiah 10:1-5).
Many of these facts are widely known. In fact, we at Life, Hope & Truth encourage you to research the origins of Christmas further. There are various historical reference books that provide a detailed history of the origin of its pagan customs.
What does Christ think of Christmas?
Since Dec. 25 is celebrated as His birthday, it makes sense to pose the question: What does Jesus Christ make of Christmas?
To answer that question, we have to go to the Bible. When we try to discover what it says about the origins of Christmas, we find that it has no basis in Scripture.
In Deuteronomy 12:29-32 God instructed ancient Israel that they should not incorporate pagan practices and teachings into their worship of Him. Jeremiah 10:1-5 describes an idolatrous custom of using a tree decorated in gold and silver for worship. The description in some English translations seems remarkably similar to modern-day Christmas tree customs. In this passage God specifically says, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles” (verse 2).
Christ said that those who worship Him must worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). That means that our worship of Him must be based entirely on truth. The source of truth is the Bible (John 17:17)—not the traditions of ancient pagan religions or humanly devised myths about Christ’s birth.
What will you decide?
Now that you know the origins of Christmas and what the Bible reveals—what will you make of Christmas? Will you just gloss over the history of the day and convince yourself that its popular meaning—giving to the poor, peace and goodwill toward all men—overshadows the pagan, unbiblical origins of the day?
Or will you commit yourself to heeding Christ’s admonition to worship Him in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24)?
In Leviticus 23 God reveals an entirely different set of religious observances—His Holy Days. These days are taught in the Bible and have deep meaning for Christians today.
The question remains: What do you make of Christmas?
To learn more about the origins of popular holidays as well as the true festivals God commands, download our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.
Topics Covered: Holidays